Olympic Tennis has had a lot of ups and downs. During some Olympic years, the tennis events have seemed at best like a 500 point tour level tournament while other years have produced high drama for the sport. With Davis Cup, Federation Cup, Hopman Cup, World Team Cup, and tennis’ four majors being held on three continents, it is a valid question to ask if tennis should be in the Olympics. Every tournament, with the possible exception of Atlanta this week, has a United Nations feel to it. I used to think tennis should not be an Olympic sport, but I changed my mind after seeing how Olympic status has helped tennis receive more systematic support from various nation-states. I similarly thought the addition of mixed doubles as a medal sport was an awful idea, but given the rarity of men and women competing both along side one another and against one another during the Olympics I have softened my stance. I am going to take a quick walk down memory lane and review both the strong and weak years for Olympic Tennis.
1988: Steffi Graf Conquers the World
1988 was a strong year for Olympic Tennis precisely because it was the first contemporary games to to have tennis as a medal sport. Steffi Graf had already won a calendar year Grand Slam in 1988. She entered the event with a great deal of momentum and pressure. Graf beat Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 6-3 to achieve a Golden Slam in 1988. Zina Garrison and Manuela Maleeva picked up bronze medals as tennis at this time did not have a consolation match between the losing semifinalists to determine a sole bronze medal winner. Graf also collected a bronze medal in doubles. Graf’s 1988 included winning all 4 Grand Slam singles titles, a gold medal in singles, a Wimbedon doubles crown and a bronze medal in doubles.
On the men’s side, Miloslav Mecir was a surprise gold medalist, but Mecir had reached the 1986 US Open final, won the 1987 Key Biscayne event, and would reach the 1989 Australian Open final. Mecir could clearly play on the hard court surface at these games. Mecir also reached the 1987 French Open semifinal round and 1988 Wimbledon semifinal round. He was incredibly talented but was also sadly often injured. Tim Mayotte captured the silver medal while Brad Gilbert and Stefan Edberg each collected a bronze medal. Stefan Edberg also won a bronze medal in doubles.
Final Verdict – A Strong Games for Tennis
These games were a big success. I think falling after the US Open, as the Sydney Olympics also did, helped the tennis event. The excitement about tennis’ return as a medal sport all but insured that these games were a success for tennis. Graf’s pursuit of a singular level of excellence during a tennis season also added to the overall heft of these games. From my point of view, the general success and momentum from 1988 built up expectations for 1992 that were not realized.